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… all on the basis of a single childish accusation, that idiotic bordereau… since almost all the so-called secrets that had supposedly been turned over to the enemy were of no value.
Émile Zola, J’accuse
One fine spring day in 1998, Philip Gourevitch, staff writer with the New Yorker, was interrupted by the ring of his fax. Some unknown source surprisingly sent him a copy of a document that reporters and investigators had been trying to track down for years. It was the answer from the New York office of the United Nations Peace Keeping Operations to the fax that General Romeo Dallaire sent on January 11, 1994, that supposedly warned UN authorities of an imminent genocide in Rwanda.
In his much celebrated article in the New Yorker entitled “The Genocide Fax”, and then again in his book 54 , Gourevitch attempted to show that the UN leaders knew there would be a genocide because Dallaire had explicitly warned them after obtaining trustworthy information from a “big fish” by the name of Jean-Pierre. He also tried to prove that the same UN leaders chose to do nothing other than inform President Habyarimana and foreign embassies in Kigali. In a nutshell, a “very very important government politician”, to use Dallaire’s word, had put Dallaire in contact with a senior cadre of the President’s MRND party and its militia. Troubled by a guilty conscience, Jean-Pierre apparently decided to spill the beans.
According to his story, Rwandan leaders were planning to provoke a civil war by assassinating selected political leaders and Belgian troops. The informer Jean-Pierre apparently suspected that the same leaders were drawing up lists of Tutsis in order to exterminate them. He also said that with his small staff he could kill up to 2,000 Tutsis in twenty minutes. Weapons were hidden throughout Kigali and could even be found at the MRND headquarters. In return for this information, the mysterious Jean-Pierre only wanted to obtain UN protection for him and his family.
This was the great find. It was the first documentary evidence to be found from the period before April 1994. Finally there was a piece of paper to prove the existence of a comprehensive plan to exterminate Rwandan Tutsis, just as there was the vast documentary evidence of the Nazi’s intention to exterminate the Jews. What’s more, UN Secretary General Boutros Boutros-Ghali and his successor Kofi Annan, who then headed peace-keeping operations, were fully informed of the imminent genocide. Instead of taking immediate action as the fax most obviously would have required, both Boutros-Ghali and Kofi Annan preferred typical UN bureaucratic inaction. They did not even inform the Security Council. As a result of their turpitude, the international community was caught unprepared for the apocalypse a few months later.
Thanks to the intrepid investigations of Philip Gourevitch, the truth is now out and we should all apologize profusely for our inaction during the genocide that was so clearly foretold. Fortunately, President Clinton and his Secretary of State Madeleine Albright apologized for us when they gracefully visited Central Africa in 1998.
That’s the way the “right and proper tale” goes, but what really happened?
“Neither General Dallaire nor I ever met that famous Jean-Pierre,” the fax’s very very important government politician told me in an interview in Brussels. “I told Dallaire about this story I had heard and about the informer. Dallaire sent one of his assistants to meet him and two days later he came and told me that they had found a few guns. The UN was not about to provide protection for him.” That doubly important government politician was Faustin Twagiramungu, leader of the opposition MDR party and prime minister designate.
For Mr. Twagiramungu the tale of Jean-Pierre reveals a terrible contempt for Africa and Africans. “I provided information to the UN Mission in Rwanda, but I never spoke about massacres or extermination of Tutsis. A fax is then sent to New York with reference to the extermination of Tutsis. Nobody talked to me about that. Except for a few words from Dallaire, I heard nothing more about this business for several years.” 55 On February 25, 1998 in Arusha, General Dallaire confirmed under oath that he had never met “Jean-Pierre”.
Jean-Pierre’s real name was Abubakar Turatsinze. He had been hired by the MRND as a chauffeur mainly because he was Muslim and would not likely drink and drive. Since “Jean-Pierre” was a good talker and had some success with the youth wing, the MRND gave him certain responsibilities in that area. In Novembre 1993, however, suspecting that “Jean-Pierre” was peddling information to others, the MRND fired him. Soon after, “Jean-Pierre” indirectly informed Faustin Twagiramungu, chairman of the main party opposed to the MRND, that the leaders of the MRND were targeting him for assassination. His authority for such a statement was that he worked for the MRND, even though he had been fired two months earlier. Faustin Twagiramungu suspected a trap was being set to provoke confrontation between his own party and President Habyarimana’s MRND. He was also aware of the danger of circulating unfounded accusations. This prompted him to inform the UN Mission who was responsible for investigating these types of reports.
Romeo Dallaire sent the Belgian who commanded the UNAMIR in the Kigali area, Colonel Luc Marchal, to meet “Jean-Pierre” on January 10 in the evening. Luc Marchal immediately believed “Jean-Pierre’s” story. He raced off to relay the information to Dallaire who sent the famous fax without counterchecking or investigating the story any further.
The promoters of the “right and proper tale” unfailingly forget to mention that the main reason Dallaire sent an urgent fax to New York was to get advice from his superiors. This was fully understandable. Dallaire had no experience in this area, he had reservations about the informer’s credibility, and he suspected a trap. Here are the sections of the fax that have been studiously omitted from the “right and proper tale”.
“THIS HQ DOES NOT HAVE PREVIOUS UNITED NATIONS EXPERIENCE IN SUCH MATTERS AND URGENTLY REQUESTS GUIDANCE.
“FORCE COMMANDER [Dallaire] DOES HAVE CERTAIN RESERVATIONS ON THE SUDDENNESS OF THE CHANGE OF HEART OF THE INFORMANT TO COME CLEAN WITH THE INFORMATION.
“POSSIBILITY OF A TRAP NOT FULLY EXCLUDED, AS THIS MAY BE A SET-UP AGAINST THIS VERY VERY IMPORTANT POLITICAL PERSON.”
It was perfectly normal for Dallaire and Marchal to request guidance from their superiors. Marchal had been in Rwanda since the end of November – one month. Dallaire had arrived at the end of October – two months. How could either of them determine the veracity of detailed information about the political parties in a country they knew little about and in which everything went on in a language they did not understand?
The following day, Dallaire’s superiors in New York advised him in a fax to inform President Habyarimana and to warn him of the risk that the armed militias represented for the implementation of the Arusha Accords. They also suggested that he communicate the same information to the main foreign embassies in Kigali. Nothing that Jean-Pierre predicted came about. If he had spoken about plans to assassinate President Habyarimana, perhaps his predictions would have warranted greater attention. But no mention is made of the upcoming assassination. The advice of Dallaire’s superiors therefore seems simple, reasonable and wise.
The “very very important” Rwanda politician, Faustin Twagiramungu, thinks that the “Jean-Pierre” story is totally false and that there was absolutely no planning of a genocide. What’s more, he told Philip Gourevitch as much before the New Yorker article on “The Genocide Fax” appeared and before Gourevitch published his book on the Rwandan tragedy. The New Yorker staff writer did not bother quoting him even though he was at the heart of the whole story. Was Jean-Pierre just trying to obtain favours in return for information? Did he want a visa for the United States or Canada? Whatever the case may be, his story resembles so many others in every country in the world. It is the story of the clerk, driver or telephone operator who works for important and powerful people and glorifies his role and position to win influence, notoriety and sometimes financial gain.
The story of “Jean-Pierre” is dubious to say the least, but what can be said about the content of Dallaire’s fax and the questions it raises. What about preparations to exterminate Tutsis? What about armed militias and political assassinations? What about President Habyarimana’s loss of control of elements of his own party? And what about the lists? The whole picture is very sinister.
Faustin Twagiramungu never heard of any intentions to exterminate the Tutsis as Jean-Pierre described in detail to Colonel Luc Marchal. 56 Abubakar Turatsinze alias Jean-Pierre undoubtedly knew that a Rwandan politician like Prime Minister designate Faustin Twagiramungu was familiar with the RPF and its tactics as he was with the other Rwandan political formations. He could not be easily fooled into believing such a story. On the other hand, Luc Marchal and Romeo Dallaire who had just arrived were much more gullible. The Belgian peacekeeper later wrote about how he had been “taken in by the RPF’s formidable propaganda” 57 ever since the Arusha negotiations.
Pro-RPF publications abounded with accusations similar to those made by Jean-Pierre. The RPF goal was to prepare Western public opinion to accept and support resumption of war since the RPF could never win power democratically. During the period prior to Jean-Pierre’s meeting with Luc Marchal, pro-RPF publications such as Isibo 58 ran articles closely resembling descriptions made by Jean-Pierre. Nine years after the events and despite long and detailed trials of alleged génocidaires in Arusha and elsewhere, absolutely no evidence of the planning or intention of exterminating Rwandan Tutsis has been found or presented. Philip Gourevitch who is one of the RPF’s main cheerleaders explicitly recognizes this fact when he insists that his “genocide fax” from Dallaire was the most important documentary evidence of an extermination plan.
What about the weapons and the armed paramilitary militias in Kigali and elsewhere? It was widely known that youth groups made up mostly of young thugs were armed and often paraded as members of political parties or militias. These light weapons including grenades were available in public markets. There was also some debate about the possibility of arming the population in the areas near the territories occupied used by the RPF and used to launch incursions. No decision to this effect was made.
RPF combatants had also infiltrated Kigali and other important centres in Rwanda. These brigades had weapons and were not afraid to show them and use them. As the number of weapons in urban areas increased, so did rumours about weapons and ammunition. People inevitably felt more and more obliged to take all necessary means to ensure their own security. Hence, weapons of all kinds proliferated in Kigali and throughout Rwanda. This proliferation was in fact another symptom, albeit more visible and threatening, of the breakdown of Rwandan society that had been provoked by the cumulative effects of war and imposition of new economic and political models.
Romeo Dallaire’s UNAMIR mission was to disarm the militias and the RPF combatants infiltrated throughout Rwanda, and especially in Kigali. To carry out that mission successfully, the Rwandan population had to have confidence in the fairness and the neutrality of the mission and its commander. Unfortunately, the UN mission and and its commander General Dallaire were both perceived to favour the invading army of Rwanda Patriotic Front.
It is difficult to comprehend the Rwandans’ profound distrust of UNAMIR without taking into account an event that took place before the mission arrived in the country. On October 21, 1992–Dallaire arrived on October 22 – Melchior Ndadaye, the first democratically elected, Hutu president in neighbouring Burundi was savagely assassinated by Tutsi officers who dominate the Burundian army. Ndadaye’s assassination was greeted with joy by pro-RPF Tutsis in Rwanda. Shortly thereafter, the RPF reinforced its links with the Burundian junta, especially regarding military issues.
“Burundi had been an example for us,” a Rwandan from Montreal told me. “Here was an elected president in Burundi. We all thought that there was a chance that similar things could happen in Rwanda. Maybe we could do as they had done. But Melchior Ndadaye’s assassination shot down all our hopes and aggravated ethnic tension in Rwanda. It became obvious to us that the Tutsis did not want democratic rule. From that moment on, opposition parties began to share the fears of President Habyarimana’s party. We were not only afraid that the Tutsis would take power. We also began to fear the way they wanted to rule Rwanda. Ndadaye’s assassination and the massacres in northern Rwanda since the invasion on October 1, 1990, gave us a pretty good idea of how they wanted to run the country. Looking back now and seeing what the RPF has done, I can say that our fears were well founded.”
Following the assassination of the Burundian president, 375,000 Hutu refugees fled to Rwanda and joined one million internal Rwandan refugees that had been displaced by the war since 1990. At the same time, RPF and Burundian military leaders met to co-ordinate activities and to convince Rwandan Tutsis living in Burundi to join the RPF army. 59
UN peacekeepers with their large Belgian contingent thus arrived in Rwanda at a time when mistrust and suspicion of the RPF and its mainly Tutsi supporters had reached an all time high. Their arrival also coincided with the departure of French troops that the anti-RPF parties had counted upon. Thus Belgian troops who were perceived to be pro-RPF replaced French troops considered to be pro-Habyarimana.
The first important action of the UN military mission, which included more than 400 Belgian troops, was to escort a battalion for 600 armed RPF soldiers from the RPF headquarters in Mulindi to Kigali. They also had to supervise their settlement, sometimes described as “triumphant”, in the parliament building, the Conseil national du développement (CND), in Kigali. This operation known as “Clean Corridor” left an image of a Belgian-dominated UNAMIR escorting the invading army to a symbolic and strategic position in the country’s capital. Upon arrival, RPF soldiers immediately dug trenches around the building which was not exactly a gesture likely to herald in a peaceful transition.
The image of a pro-RPF UN mission coincides with most observations gathered since the tragedy. Both the commander Romeo Dallaire and the UNAMIR forces were unacceptably close and in collusion with the Rwandan Patriotic Front.
“Romeo Dallaire was very close to the RPF”, says Gilbert Ngijol, political assistant to Jacques-Roger Booh-Booh. “He let the RPF get arms. He allowed UNAMIR troops to train RPF soldiers. United Nations troops provided the logistics for the RPF. They even fed them.”
The Secretary Generalâ€™s Special Representative to Rwanda, Jacques-Roger Booh-Booh confirmed this when he broke 10 years of silence regarding Rwanda in an interview published in Africa International. “In the field, he abandoned his work as military commander and got involved in politics; he violated the principle of UNAMIRâ€™s neutrality and became the objective ally of one of the parties in the conflict.” 60
A Rwandan refugee living in France recalled that “Romeo Dallaire was always at the home of Hélène Pinske, a Quebec woman married to a Tutsi minister by the name of Landoald Ndasingwa. Unlike Landoald, who knew that the minority could never democratically govern the Hutu majority, Hélène never hid the fact that she hoped the RPF would win. ‘By the will of God, we’re going to win’, she declared when the RPF arrived in Kigali.
According to James K. Gasana, Rwandan Defence Minister until July 1993, the UNAMIR behaved just like another military faction.
“It [UNAMIR] was always extremely amenable with the RPF and even agreed to let it get wood from Mulindi (RPF military headquarters in northern Rwanda), even though there was wood near Kigali. These supply trips to the north escorted by UNAMIR peacekeepers and vehicles enabled the RPF to transport infiltrators and new recruits from the northern area to Kigali. Another illustration of this collusion is that in January 1994, upon an RPF request, UNAMIR decided to shut down one runway at the Kanombe airport that enabled landing and takeoff over Kigali.” 61
The closing of that runway at the Kigali airport meant that there was only one direction for airplanes to land when arriving in Kigali. This greatly facilitated the assassination of President Habyarimana as he arrived in Kigali on April 6, 1994.
Even if Romeo Dallaire, Luc Marchal, Jacques-Roger Booh-Booh and the others had wanted to stop the increasing take-over by the RPF and effectively disarm it, foreign embassies in Kigali were operating as thought the RPF had already taken power. Leaders of the president’s party, the MRND, continually received ummistakable messages before April 6, 1994, to the effect that President Habyarimana had to go. James Gasana points out that “from a diplomatic standpoint, most business involving Rwanda’s relations with Western countries and particularly the United States was handled with Paul Kagame at RPF headquarters in Mulindi.” 62 What’s more, the IMF followed suit. It even called meetings at the invading army headquarters in Mulindi and expected the Habyarimana government to send representatives to them.
It matters little now whether Romeo Dallaire and his UN mission were following orders from the UN in New York not to invconvenience the Rwandan Patriotic Front in any way, or whether they were simply pursuing the policy adopted by Western embassies, and particularly by the American Embassy. The overall effect upon the Rwandan people was the same.
For UN peacekeepers to be able to disarm both the militias and RPF infiltrators, an agreement on procedures would have had to be negotiated. No such agreement came about. More importantly, the UN mission and its commander had to demonstrate unwavering neutrality and determination in their efforts to disarm both parties fully and equitably. Nobody believed that they would or could do that in 1994, and nobody believes it now.
Since UN peacekeepers were unwilling or unable to disarm militias and infiltrated combatants, they could not prevent the presence of paramilitary groups from aggravating the anarchy that increasingly plagued Rwanda between January and April 1994.
Now what about the lists “Jean-Pierre” mentioned? Faustin Twagiramungu who headed the first government sworn in after the RPF take-over dismisses stories about lists, saying that the only lists he ever saw had no more than a few hundred names. A few hundred names on lists in no way indicates the intention of one group to eliminate a large part of the Rwandan population. “People should be wary of dubious documents planted in certain books,” 63 he declared in testimony before the Belgian Senate.
Nothing could be more normal or legitimate for a government at war than to collect the names of people suspected of spying for the enemy. For the record, we should recall American campaigns in the First World War. The very official Creel Committee invited citizens of the United States to denounce people suspected of favouring the Germans. “Report the man who spreads pessimistic stories, divulges – or seeks – confidential military information, cries for peace, or belittles our efforts to win the war. Send the names of such persons, even if they are in uniform, to the Department of Justice, Washington.” 64 Closer to home, consider Virginia’s Senator John Warner’s advice given on CNN’s Larry King show on November 7, 2001: “You must think of yourself as an agent, not to spy on your neighbour, but to judiciously report anything that looks suspicious.” 65
What country at war has not drawn up lists of possible spies? Such practices do not prove in any way that there was a will to exterminate part of the population.
How and why did the so-called genocide fax become one of the main elements of the “right and proper tale”. Romeo Dallaire’s fax to his superiors in New York remained more or less confidential until November 1995 when it was mentioned in the London Observer. A copy of it then appeared in a Belgian publication and several questions about it were raised during the inquiry conducted by the Belgian Senate. Though nobody had a copy of the reply from UN headquarters in New York, the contents of the reply were known.
For former Secretary General Boutros-Ghali “that story of the fax is greatly exaggerated. There was not only one fax. Every day the UN would receive faxes saying ‘We heard thereâ€™s a plot afootâ€¦’” He added that if there was a plot afoot, Security Council member countries were much better informed than the UN Secretary General because, unlike the UN, they have intelligence gathering services. “Whatâ€™s more, they refuse to share their information!” 66
Late in 1997 and early in 1998, the United States was being severely criticized for its role in the Rwandan tragedy and in the Congo. Hearings in the French National Assembly and the Belgian Senate led to irritating headlines and pointed attacks on the Clinton Administration. In spring 1998, in Washington, the House Committee on International Relations wanted to question the Administration about Washington’s inaction during the Rwandan tragedy in 1994. Neither the State Department nor the Defence Department deigned to appear at the public hearings held by the House Committee. Their refusal angered members of Congress.
Philip Gourevitch’s fax astoundingly happened to ring at that moment and out came the much sought-after UN reply to General Romeo Dallaire. Gourevitch published his “scoop” in the New Yorker the very week that hearing were being held in Washington about the United States’ role in the Great Lakes region of Africa. Here’s how Gourevitch explained it all. After quoting UN spokesman Fred Eckhard to the effect that the UN was getting “a bum rap on this”, Gourevitch wrote that “Somebody with access to UN files disagreed with Eckhard, and one day my fax machine rang and a copy of the missing …” 67
People have not asked Mr. Gourevitch how and why he happened to receive the missing reply, and he has volunteered to tells us, since it undoubtedly came from his brother-in-law, Jamie Rubin, Madeleine Albright’s senior press attaché and right-hand man.
Jamie Rubin is the man who, in March 1996, Washington asked to devise a plan to prevent Boutros Boutros-Ghali from obtaining a second term as Secretary General of the United Nations. He had contacts in all the major media in Washington and New York and never hesitated to use them to leak information to attack Boutros-Ghali within the UN. His guiding strategy however was to protect and promote Madeleine Albright. 68 Moreover, Jamie Rubin confirmed his tight relationship with Philip Gourevitch to New York Times reporter and author Howard French. In a 1997 press briefing while he was accompanying Madeleine Albright in Rwanda and the former Zaire, he said to French: “Actually a lot of my take comes from an even better source (than US intelligence), and it comes directly. Philip Gourevitch is my sisterâ€™s boyfriend.” 69
The State Department and Secretary of State Madeleine Albright were in hot water over Rwanda. The best way to divert the attacks was to pass the buck on to the United Nations and to Boutros-Ghali. At the same time, they could also let Kofi Annan know that he too was on a short leash. Annan after all was responsible for UN peacekeeping operations at the time. The spin given to the fax story was simply that “We in Washington are not guilty of having supported a murderous invading army that has spread death and destruction throughout central Africa. It’s those incompetent UN bureaucrats and especially that Secretary General who did not take the obvious necessary measures to stop those horrible génocidaires from carrying out their evil plans. They did nothing even though they were sitting on unquestionable documentary evidence of a planned genocide. They did not even inform the international community.” This is essentially what Philip Gourevitch wrote in the New Yorker in May 1998.
The strategy used by Washington to hide its own evildoing is tried and proven. In 2002, when it was preparing the war on Irak, Washington launched a similar message: “We don’t want to destroy Irak, take over the country and put in an American puppet. It’s the United Nations resolutions that demanded we do so.”
Washington’s strategy has unfortunately been quite successful even though it does not stand up to analysis. The power of the United Nations is very limited. The CIA alone spends more in ten days than the UN spends in a year: 1.2 billion US dollars. 70 Ramsey Clark points out that “since the end of the Cold War the US so dominant in the UN that it is almost a tool, a small tool, and it has a lot bigger ones like its bombs and its aircraft to get its way around the world”.
In is January 11 fax, Romeo Dallaire reported that according to Jean-Pierre, President Habyarimana did “not have full control over all elements of his old party/faction”. He could, and perhaps should, have written that the president not longer had any control over the country.
Decision-making power for Rwanda was now everywhere but in the hands of Rwandans in Kigali. Between October 1990 and April 6, 1994, foreign powers led by the United States had effectively disempowered Rwandans who had worked for 35 years to build a state apparatus and a society the worked relatively well and met the needs and aspirations of the people of Rwanda.
The so-called donor institutions had decided that the economic model had to be changed. A strong state with an interventionist bent was to become a tiny administrative unit even if it meant social upheaval and loss of power for the Hutu majority. Next came the political model imposed by Western powers even though the country had been invaded under their noses and with their support, and was still occupied by a hostile foreign army. The same powers then forced the Rwandan government to sit down and negotiate the transfer of power to the invading army that represented at best a small minority of the Rwandan population.
Time passed and the occupying army continued to take new land. The civilian population was chased out of their homes. The country, its president and government, and all Rwandans who refused to accept being ruled by the invading army were vilified throughout the world. While the occupying army killed, deported and terrorized the population, right-thinking Europeans and North Americans became international mouthpieces for the attacks and regularly added their own slander. Their words became daggers aimed at the jugular of Rwandan society. Friendly countries turned their backs after thirty years of co-operation and became cozy with the occupying army, soon to be characterized as a beacon of hope for Africa in the new millennium.
By April 1994, on the eve of the president’s assassination, Rwanda was in total disarray. The country’s leaders had no power to decide on their future. The new political parties were in crisis, jockeying for position and influence. The economy was shattered. The war raged on and more than a million people were displaced. Armed groups were everywhere, each establishing its own laws, while the United Nations peacekeeping mission responsible for disarming them could not, or would not, carry out its mandate.
54 Gourevitch, Philip, We Wish to Inform you that Tomorrow we Will Be Killed with our Families. Stories from Rwanda, New York, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1998.
55 Interview with Faustin Twagiramungu, November 22, 2002.
56 Colonel Luc Marchal, Rwanda : la descente aux enfers, Témoignage d’un peacekeeper, décembre 1993 – avril 1994, Paris Éditions Labor, 2001, pages 165 à 176.
57 Letter from Luc Marchal to Alain de Brouwer written in July 1998 quoted by de Brouwer in a document about the organization of International Christian Democrats and the war in Rwanda, October 2002.
58 James K. Gasana,, op. cit. p. 238.
59 Ibid, p. 232.
60 Africa International, May 2004.
61 Ibid, p. 238.
62 Ibid, p. 237.
63 Commission d’enquête parlementaire concernant les événements du Rwanda, Sénat de Belgique, Friday, May 30, 1997, testimony of Faustin Twagiramungu, former Prime Minister of Rwanda.
64 James R. Mock and Cedric Larson, Words that Won the War. The Story of the Committee on Public Information, 1917-1919, Princeton, Princeton University Press, 1939. See posters pages
65 Fred Jerome, The Einstein File, J. Edgar Hoover’s Secret War Against the World’s Most Famous Scientist, St. Martin’s Griffin, New York, 2003.
66 Interview with Boutros Boutros-Ghali, November 9, 2004.
67 The Genocide Fax, The New Yorker, May 11, 1998, p. ??.
68 Michael Dobbs, Madeleine Albright. A 20th Century Odyssey, Henry Holt & Company, 1999, pages 364-365.
69 Howard French, A Continent for the Taking, Knopf, 2004 p. 243.
70 Ibid. p 365. Former UN Secretary General Boutros Boutros-Ghali complained that the CIA spent as much every day as the UN in a whole year. Madeleine Albright’s biographer corrected him by pointing out that it was every ten days and not every day.
Criminal Paul Kagame